Friday, December 17, 2021

Karl du Fresne: New Zealand: where being "anti-government" results in police surveillance

Things are worse than we thought.

Blogger Cameron Slater recently learned from an OIA request that the blog he’s associated with, The BFD, was under police surveillance. An unnamed police intelligence analyst was concerned Slater would “continue to publish uncorroborated information to denigrate labour [sic] party policies and individuals linked to them”.

Yes, you read that correctly. There are people in the police hierarchy who apparently think that anyone who criticises the government should be watched. This was also the mentality of East Germany’s Stasi, South Africa’s BOSS (the Bureau of State Security) and Haitian dictator Papa Doc Duvalier’s murderous Tonton Macoute.

(Vladimir Ilyich Lenin didn’t care for dissenters either, as he made clear in a 1920 speech: “Why should a government which is doing what it believes to be right allow itself to be criticised? It would not allow opposition by lethal weapons. Ideas are much more fatal things than guns. Why should any man be allowed to buy a printing press and disseminate pernicious opinion calculated to embarrass the government?” Lenin subsequently set up the OGPU, which eventually morphed into the KGB, to ensure he wasn’t bothered by such irritations. Someone like Slater would have gone straight to the Gulag.)

The documents released to Slater also included a request from an unnamed officer, couched in military-style jargon, describing him as racist and “anti-government” and asking for a “rundown” on him. The documents note that Slater’s reporting on Siouxsie Wiles, whom he labelled a hypocrite for appearing to flout lockdown restrictions that she had urged the public to comply with, was “consistent with past behaviours” such as defamation, breaching name suppression and “publishing erroneous reports on political opponents” – all of which are matters for civil, not criminal law, and therefore not the business of the police.

Ominously, a police intelligence briefing disclosed concern that Slater “will continue to public voice opinions on topical matters which may add to conspiracy theorist engagement across social media”. And an unnamed senior sergeant wondered whether the cops should pay Slater a visit because he posted “possibility [sic] controversial racist comments” about the September terrorist incident at LynnMall.

It’s hard to take this alarmist nonsense seriously, but we must. The documents reveal there are people in the police who think it’s their function to protect us against the free exchange of ideas and opinion – a right guaranteed to New Zealanders under the Bill of Rights Act. To put it more bluntly, these commissars-in-waiting apparently regard democracy as dangerous.

So being anti-government is now seen as a potential threat to public safety? This is the type of state paranoia that ultimately leads to monitoring of phone calls and knocks on the door at midnight. Slater was right to describe it as sinister.

As recently as two years ago I wouldn’t have imagined this sort of thing happening in one of the world’s most open democracies, but it’s surprising how quickly freedoms can be eroded. It starts with the marginalisation of unapproved views (the mainstream media are complicit in this) and advances rapidly to the point where dissent is denounced, suppressed and even made illegal. All it takes is a passive and apathetic populace – oh, and politicians too timid and too unsure of their own values to make a stand for individual freedoms.

Couldn’t happen in a liberal democracy like New Zealand? Don’t be so sure. During the 1951 waterfront dispute a National government invoked extreme powers under the Public Safety Conservation Act. These gave the police power to censor all publications, broadcasts and even private letters; seize printing presses and typewriters; arrest people who provided food, money or other support to striking workers and their families; ban public meetings; arrest people without warrant; and enter and search properties without a court order.

All of these powers were exercised by the police on the pretext that it was for the public good – and what’s most disturbing is that a compliant public and press went along. Who can say that under an equally determined government of the left, supported by a similarly sympathetic media, police won’t again be empowered to interfere with basic democratic freedoms? The appetite appears to be there, at least among some officers with dangerously inflated (and deluded) ideas about their function.

What next, I wonder. Will we hear people like Slater described as “enemies of the state” or “enemies of the people” – phrases used by brutal totalitarian regimes of both the extreme right (Nazi Germany) and extreme left (the Soviet Union) to justify the incarceration of troublesome individuals on the pretext that it’s for the good of society?

In this case, thank God, the unnamed police busybodies were over-ruled by wiser and more grounded senior officers. But the realisation that this type of censorious zealotry exists within the police should strike a cold chill in the heart of anyone who values open democracy – and all the more so when it remains possible that under so-called “hate speech” laws, the police will be given power to determine what we can and cannot say.

Disclosure: I haven’t met Cameron Slater, but I have written guest posts for The BFD and it has republished some posts from my blog by agreement. I have publicly disagreed with some of Slater’s tactics in the past. But freedom of speech is not a right that depends on the acceptability of the opinions expressed. Orwell (as so often) put it best: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

Karl du Fresne, a freelance journalist, is the former editor of The Dominion newspaper. He blogs at


Janine said...

The very reason some of these websites like the BFD exist is because the MSM only print the governments version of events. Extremely well bought and paid for with over $100 million. I looked in vain for a report on the pretty innocuous " freedom march" to Wellington held yesterday. Appalling headlines from the MSM as usual and very minute coverage. If you weren't better informed you would think the marchers were anarchists! The false coverage probably caused our politicians to flee the capital. Goodness me, what are we coming to?

These marchers are our fellow New Zealanders, we should be interested in their rights and concerns. I am anyway.

I make very humble contributions to this site as I want my fellow citizens who disagree with the present government to know they are not alone.

I also couldn't believe some of these sites were being monitored.

ross meurant said...

A well constructed case, Karl.

l'll debunk - not you but the myth latent in your post, in a separate blog if the editor permits, for as we know: "God is on the side of the big battalions".

And to quote Voltaire again: "Beware of the words, “Internal security for they are the eternal cry of the oppressor.”

Ray S said...

As much as we think (and hope) these things don't or wouldn't happen here, we delude ourselves.
The WWW and blogs like this from here and around the world are one of the many tools used to locate and monitor those who would do harm.

It is inevitable that otherwise seemingly innocent items would be flagged, usually triggered by the use of certain words or phrases.
eg: bomb, riot, overthrow etc, etc, etc.

In any system, there are those who consider that monitoring citizens is the only way to control and or protect them. Sad but true.
New Zealand is no exception.

As Karl said, we don't know what's going on until it happens.
The silence of MSM is of equal concern. Their bias is more overt.

Terry Morrissey said...

From where I sit the ones publishing misinformation,racism and outright lies are the MSM at the behest of the socialist totalitarian government under Ardern.
Publishing information withheld by the government is not misinformation.
The police are, like the armed services supposed to be appolitical, but under this government they have, by all appearances, become politicised.
The intellegence services would be far better employed investigating government caucus members and leftist journalists.
With the change of government there will have to be a whole lot of career changes in the MSM. If in fact the MSM survives.

Joseph said...

The term of this present Labour/communist government is like being tied to a chair and watching a toddler play with a loaded pistol.

Rick said...

Apart from the Anarkiwi group there's nobody truly anti-government around. Statist interpret that position as non-player and don't register a threat worth responding to.

The people who get into bother are not anti-government. They are pro-government after a particular fashion. Slater is very pro-government in history and in the present. Trouble is it's not the mainstream politics or the current party that he is aligned with. Let's be clear on that.

Unknown said...

Excellent as usual Karl. One point though the Nazi regime was socialist, not right wing, not that one is much better than the other. The national socialist German workers party was an algamation of a socialist party which Hitler was a member of and the German workers party.

Anonymous said...

In reply to unknown, that the nazi regime was a socialist party is not true.Hitler and his henchmen hyjacked the socialist ideals that were common at the time, to gain power.It meant people would vote for him that were to stupid to see through his racist and empire building agenda
Helen Clark was neither a socialist or a true labour politician. But she knew her social engineering , radical ideals would never win an election, so she and her henchmen, infiltrated the working class Labour Party, who also were not smart enough to see her true agenda, and slowly got rid of all the true labour politicians, ending with stabbing Mike Moore in the back, to lead the Labour Party and eventually have the power to bring in her radical changes to this country